More than 100 vehicles, including muscle cars, classic cars, police cars, fire trucks, tow trucks, motorcycles and pickup trucks, passed through the parking lot at West Valley Church over more than 90 minutes Saturday as drivers and passengers wished Preston McLean a happy eighth birthday.
Cassie Lucas, Preston’s mother, said she wanted to make sure this birthday celebration was special, because it would most likely be Preston’s last.
Born with multiple congenital heart defects, as well as having had a stroke when he was an infant, Preston was put on hospice care in June, Lucas said.
“We wanted to celebrate his birthday, and how his life matters,” Lucas said.
One of Preston’s favorite activities is watching cars drive by, and Lucas decided a honk-and-wave, drive-through birthday party would fit the bill.
She was only expecting a few cars, but the event took on a life of its own, with people coming from as far as the Tri-Cities to celebrate both his birthday and life in a show of community unity.
“It was more than I expected,” Lucas said as the motorcade continued to pass, with additional cars lined up in the parking lot waiting their turn to pass by. “I think greater Yakima has shown up.”
For the participants, it was a chance to reach out and help someone.
“Whether Upper Valley or Lower Valley, this community has always come together when there’s a need,” said Cody Charlton, owner of Hooked Up Towing who helped get other tow operators to send trucks to the event.
Preston was born May 4, 2013, and when he was 5 months old, he was diagnosed with a heart murmur. He had surgery at 7 months old and came out on life support, which led to him having a stroke that left him weak on his left side.
He had the mitral valve in his heart replaced with a mechanical alternative when he was 11 months old, Lucas said, and stents in his pulmonary artery and aorta keep the vessels open enough to maintain blood flow.
In 2019, Preston developed a severe infection that led to a three-month battle at a Seattle hospital, Lucas said. He was also diagnosed with autism.
In the summer of 2020, Lucas said, the family had to make a heart-wrenching decision, weighing the chance at more time with him against the quality of his life. She said further surgery to his damaged heart offered a slim chance of survival at best, and he was ineligible for a heart transplant.
That is when the family opted for hospice care.
“He lives day by day,” Lucas said. “You have to be on your toes. You don’t know if it is going to be his last day. We try to make the best of the rest of his life.”
With his eighth birthday likely to be his last, Lucas said the family wanted to make it special and recognize his life, and how he has faced his trials.
“He’s gone through a lot more than other people have gone through in their lives,” Lucas said, “and he still has a smile on his face.”
One of his favorite things is to look out windows at passing cars. Lucas said she doesn’t get too many on her street, but when Preston’s visiting others, he’s fascinated by the passing vehicles. She thought a honk-and-wave birthday party, which has become popular since the coronavirus pandemic began, would be something he would love.
She put the word out on social media to friends, expecting a few cars to come by. They planned first to do the event at Wide Hollow Elementary School, but moved it across the street after learning it would conflict with another event at the school.
As word spread, more and more people began offering to come and pay tribute to Preston.
Charlton, owner of Hooked Up Towing in Granger, learned about Preston’s party and story from Facebook, and he reached out to both the Yakima Police and the Yakima County Sheriff’s Office to see what they were doing.
“I wanted to do something big,” Charlton said. So he reached out to other tow companies, and they agreed to send rigs down to join the honk-and-wave.
Yakima, West Valley, East Valley and Selah fire departments also sent equipment over to participate, including Yakima’s ladder truck with its rear tiller driver. Car clubs and motorcycle clubs also joined in. Some of the drivers revved their engines and spun their tires on the asphalt, much to Preston’s delight.
Preston was also presented with a certificate from the local chapter of the Marine Corps League.
And some, one could say, came from a galaxy far, far away to honor Preston.
Three members of the Havoc Squad, Garrison Titan of the 501st Legion, a Star Wars fan club, came dressed in full regalia, including storm trooper armor, to present Preston with gifts.
“If we can make his day a little more special, it’s all the better,” said Jacob Johnstun, a Yakima resident who was dressed in a uniform of an officer of the Galactic Empire. His companions, Jake Smith and Deacon Grall, came from the Tri-Cities.
Yakima County Sheriff Bob Udell also showed up, giving Preston a doll of Sheriff Woody from the “Toy Story” movies.
“I think this is a great way to honor a youth who had a tough life,” Udell said of the event.
Yakima Police and the state Department of Fish and Wildlife also sent patrol vehicles over for the event.
Santa Claus, in the person of Mark DeMonbrun, made an appearance. He learned about it from local news outlets, and decided to come in full regalia.
“I’m so proud of this community,” DeMonbrun said, of the response from the community.
Lucas said Preston, who cannot speak, appeared to enjoy the whole event.